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October 2020

Volunteer wellbeing

What works and who benefits from volunteering?

Volunteer wellbeing
In partnership with

Around seven in ten people in Great Britain formally volunteer through a group, club or organisation at some point in their lives. 

These volunteers offer invaluable support to improve the lives of other people. But how can volunteering help support the wellbeing of volunteers themselves?

To answer this question, we conducted  a comprehensive review of volunteering evidence together with The Institute for Volunteering Research at the University of East Anglia and Spirit of 2012

The review took place in 2020 and looked at over 17,000 published reports. It also included evidence from 158 studies from the UK and internationally. 

The review found that:

  • Volunteering is associated with enhanced wellbeing, including improved life satisfaction, increased happiness and decreases in symptoms of depression. 
  • Volunteering fits into the wellbeing cycle of communities, either because volunteering leads to improved wellbeing for volunteers or because when people feel well, they are more likely to get involved. 
  • Older people, the unemployed and those who already have chronic ill health and low wellbeing gain more from volunteering than others. 
  • Volunteering also has a buffering role for those going through life transitions, such as retirement or bereavement.
  • Groups with the most to gain from volunteering face barriers to getting involved because of lack of opportunity. Ill-health and disability are particular barriers for low income groups.
  • The intensity and demands of some volunteer roles may have a negative effect. The way volunteers are involved and engaged can enhance or hinder the positive wellbeing effects of volunteering. 

Through the project, we produced a briefing highlighting the key findings, a technical report and a theory of change.

The report gives guidance on how organisations improve the wellbeing of their volunteers:

  1. Being more inclusive.
  2. Increasing connectedness.
  3. Creating a more balanced volunteering experience. 
  4. Making volunteering meaningful.

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In this project

Project outputs
Volunteering: what works and who benefits?
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Blog - Dr. Jurgen Grotz
Volunteering – wellbeing – volunteering: a virtuous cycle?
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Briefing and Theory of Change
Volunteering and wellbeing
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